H-Town's Super Bowl Close-Up

Mayor promises 'happy time' as downtown Houston gets ready for its Super Bowl close-up

Mayor promises 'happy time' as downtown gets ready for Super Bowl

Wings over Water sculpture in front of George R. Brown Convention Center
The Wings Over Water sculpture has been installed in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center in time for the Super Bowl. Photo by Micahl Wycoff
Super Bowl mascot in Discovery Green
Super Bowl LI mascot has a home at Discovery Green. Photo by Micahl Wycoff
Horse drawn carriage in front of George R Brown Convention Center for Super Bowl kickoff
A horse drawn carriage clips clops in front of the newly spiffed up George R. Brown Convention Cente.r Photo courtesy of Houston First
Fireworks over George R Brown Convention Center for Super Bowl 51 day kickoff
Fireworks over the George R. Brown Convention Center heralded the changes that have taken place in the area in anticipation of Super Bowl LI. Photo by Micahl Wycoff
Super Bowl flip switch for George R Brown art sculpture
Houston Super Bowl Host Committee CEO Sallie Sargent, in red, looks on as Houston FIrst and City of Houston officials flip a switch to bathe the George R. Brown Convention Center in red. Photo by Micahl Wycoff
Wings over Water sculpture in front of George R. Brown Convention Center
At night, the Wings Over Water sculpture in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center takes on a different look. Photo by Clifford Pugh
Wings over Water sculpture in front of George R. Brown Convention Center
Super Bowl mascot in Discovery Green
Horse drawn carriage in front of George R Brown Convention Center for Super Bowl kickoff
Fireworks over George R Brown Convention Center for Super Bowl 51 day kickoff
Super Bowl flip switch for George R Brown art sculpture
Wings over Water sculpture in front of George R. Brown Convention Center

Houston City Council member and Mayor Pro-Tem Ellen Cohen looked across the bustling Discovery Green from the vantage point of the newly renovated George R. Brown Convention Center and marveled at the changes that have taken place in the eastern part of downtown Houston.

"I've been in Houston since 1977 and as I stand here I am so amazed at the whole look and, in particular, when I look across the street and think of those absolutely beautiful parking lots that we had for all those years and a street that went down here and a bunch of buses parked down there. Look what we've got now," she proclaimed. "It's fantastic."

At a recent kickoff party to celebrate the changes in the area in advance of Super Bowl LI, city officials and executives from the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee and Houston First fell all over themselves in praise of one another for making it happen. But perhaps they could be excused for the excessive enthusiasm as the Convention Center/Discovery Green area promises to be the focus of attention for much of the hoopla surrounding the big event, with a made-for-TV backdrop.

When Houston hosted the Super Bowl in 2004, the sparkling new METRORail system debuted in downtown Houston and the social center occurred along Main Street in the north area of downtown. However, much of the downtown club scene withered afterwards in the years afterwards, although there has been a recent revival of restaurants and clubs.

Now, 13 years later, Super Bowl activity will shift to the corridor around Discovery Green, with a new $370 million Marriott Marquis hotel and $175 million in improvements aimed at establishing a pedestrian urban crossroads in this sprawling, car-centric city. Officials are hopeful that this time around, the changes will stick.

The transformation includes a 97,000-square-foot pedestrian plaza in front of the convention center, dubbed "Avenida Houston," with five new restaurants, and a swirling water sculpture by Joe O'Connell, called Wings of Water, that will likely be a prime place for Super Bowl selfies. "I am just in awe of Wings of Water...It represents Houston's soul," said Mayor Sylvester Turner. "It is a kinetic, which demonstrates that it is movement and the city continues to move. And the city continues to transform itself."

The convention center, which will be the site of the NFL Experience from January 28 through February 5, has been opened up, with an atrium-like lobby with floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking out onto Discovery Green and a number of art installations, including Soaring in the Clouds, a 67-foot-high mobile of shiny metal clouds and cutout birds. A 10-story office building, Partnership Tower, and a new 1,900-car garage round out the changes in the area.

More than 1 million visitors are expected at Discovery Green for Super Bowl LIVE, a 10-day free festival with performances by ZZ Top, Solange Knowles, and a host of Texas singers and musicians, a Future Flight thrill ride, food trucks, and other exhibits about Houston.

After the Super Bowl is over, officials are depending upon increased convention business to keep the area hopping and are hoping that Houstonians will make the restaurants a destination spot.

"The things that are taking place right now are things that will live long past the Super Bowl," Turner said. "But having said that, when that 1 million-plus folk come to the city of Houston (for the Super Bowl), they are in for one happy time in this city."

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